When I was a little girl, my mother made roasted chestnuts every Thanksgiving and Christmas. My dad’s name was Tony, and he liked to joke and say “toe-knee-chest-nut” as he pointed first to his toe, then to his knee, then to his chest, and finally to his head. I know I would laugh every time he did this and I can still see his smiling face as he would repeat this joke every year. With both of my parents gone now, I try to keep traditions alive for my family. But every year that I make roasted chestnuts, after roasting them, the nut gets stuck to the shell. I’ve always used the recipe that was in my Fannie Farmer Cookbook that I got when I was married in 1985. The recipe says to cut a crisscross on the flat side of the chestnut and then roast them in the oven at 450 degrees F for 10 to 20 minutes. And every year that I follow this recipe, my chestnuts stick to their shells.
Today I was in the supermarket and I bought chestnuts again. Even though I am the only one who eats them in the family, I refuse to give up the tradition. I put my groceries in the car and then stopped into the local pizza place to get a slice for lunch. I was talking to the owner and decided to ask him if he knew what the secret was to roasting chestnuts. He referred me to another man who works for him. The man spoke with a thick Sicilian accent as he told me that chestnuts should be sliced crisscross on the round side of the nut. Then he said they should be cooked slowly in the oven at about 300 or 325 degrees F. He asked me if I had a fireplace. When I said, “No, but I have a barbecue grill,” he said I could use that too. But he said, “Roast the chestnuts slowly on the hot ashes, not on the flame.”
So this year I will try his method to see if it has a better outcome than Fannie Farmer’s recipe. Hoping that they come out the way my mom used to make them, and that if they do, maybe I can get my family to eat them with me this Thanksgiving!
Theresa Dodaro is the author of The Tin Box Trilogy. http://www.theresadodaro.com